If you want to be able to properly rely on a surveyor’s report, your instructions to them need to be in writing. However, before attempting to put them in writing, you should discuss and agree the general nature of the examination with the surveyor you consult. Most surveyors will be quite willing to write saying what he or she will do together with any general conditions which they would normally attach to the report. The potential purchaser should read all these very carefully. Some purchasers resent conditions or exclusions, but in our experience these are intended to help both the surveyor and their client.
We also suggest that you discuss and agree the approximate cost beforehand. You may be able to agree a lesser fee on the basis that if the surveyor later expresses disquiet as a result of this examination, you may then sanction further work or further examinations as a result. If problems are discovered, it should not be assumed that the initial fee will cover any further action necessary or arising out of the report. Equally, the surveyor should not assume he has the right to proceed without agreement on further expenditure.
Ideally you should arrange to sit down with the surveyor to discuss the report so that he or she can explain any points which are not clear and explain the implications of the findings, the options open to you and the risks involved in purchasing the property.
Always get a written report. This is particularly important if you intend to rely heavily on the report. It would be very difficult to sue a surveyor successfully on foot of a verbal report if it transpired that some problem was missed. Many surveyors will charge less for a verbal report on the basis that not only does it take time to write a report (which is never a routine operation in a proper inspection) but also they think (probably correctly) that they will incur less legal liability. This almost defeats the purpose of getting a proper survey done in the first place.
Purchasers of houses at auction are in a particularly difficult situation in such circumstances. If they do not do their homework, they may find out that the cost of getting the house into the condition they want is beyond their resources. If they get all their homework done in advance, however, it can be quite costly and this can be very frustrating if the house goes beyond their limit at auction. The only thing worse than being several hundred euros out of pocket with nothing to show for it is bidding higher than the value of the property and buying a building with serious defects. This is an area where the advice of a competent surveyor is invaluable, in trying to strike a balance between checking matters carefully enough without spending too much money.